Sunday, June 02, 2013

Patrick Mercer and the right to recall MPs

Patrick Mercer's reaction after being exposed by Panorama and the Daily Telegraph was to announce that he was resigning the Conservative whip but would remain as MP for Newark until the next general election.

Eric Joyce was suspended from the Labour Party when he was charged with assault after an incident in Strangers' Bar but is still voting in the lobbies.

This is surely the wrong way round. The moral hurdle for being a member or parliament cannot be lower than the one for being a member of a party.

It would be more fitting for these MPs to resign their seats but remain as members of their parties. All parties include members you would not dream of putting forward as parliamentary candidates but who can contribute usefully in other ways.

And I suspect the worse thing for someone like Joyce, who appears to have personal problems, is to be cut adrift in this way.

One clear moral of the events of the last few days is that we need the long-promised reform of lobbying.

But do we need the power to recall errant MPs too? Morally, they ought to resign, but should they be forced to?

I am not a great fan of recall powers because I don't think they would be good for our politics.

It is easy to imagine a party that loses in a Westminster constituency devoting its efforts, not to winning the next election, but to refighting the last one. Dig up dirt on your new MP, get up petitions against him or her locally, don't talk about policy at all.

It is what happened in the US when, faced with the popularity of Bill Clinton, the Republican right decided to concentrate on his character and campaign for impeachment instead.

You can even imagine a future government trying to use recall powers to force a particularly annoying critic out of the Commons.

No doubt it would be possible to make the offence required to trigger the power of recall sufficiently serious to avoid most of these dangers, but I am still not convinced that a right of recall would be good for British politics.

Like many measures designed to restore the reputation of MPs, it could end up making us think less of them.

1 comment:

Peter Harvey said...

Doesn't it affect pension rights if they resign mid-term?